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Enlarging the theoretical understanding of rural development

Final Report Summary - ETUDE (Enlarging the theoretical understanding of rural development)

The EU, many Member States as well as regional authorities are increasingly transforming their rural development policies from an initial focus on farm structures to a broader framework that includes food chain aspects, forestry, environmental issues, diversification of the rural economy and the quality of life in rural areas. Simultaneously, patterns of governance have started to change: integrated actions, new public-private partnerships and area-based and bottom-up approaches constitute important ingredients of new local development strategies (although not everywhere with the same consistency). Together with a myriad of grass root initiatives, new policies and governance structures are reshaping the social and economic fabric of many rural economies. At the same time, it is becoming clear that rural development processes are moving beyond the institutionalised blocks of knowledge that are fragmented and were once designed to represent and understand the rural economy as it was shaped during the epoch of the big modernisation project of European agriculture. Sectoral approaches are no longer adequate to understand the manifold and multilevel interactions between farming activities and the wider rural context and integrative and multi-disciplinary theories are critically lacking.

The ETUDE project developed and empirically loaded and tested an integrated conceptual framework that goes beyond mono-disciplinary and sectoral approaches and integrates several currently emerging theoretical strands.

Project objectives

The aim of ETUDE was to develop an integrated conceptual framework for rural development, which will enable a better understanding of the manifold and multilevel interactions between farming and the rural context.

In order to realise the outlined project objectives the following research activities were effectuated in five consecutive work packages (WPs):

- Development of a conceptual framework (WP2)
- Quick scan of cases: loading the conceptual framework with 63 cases from all over Europe (WP3)
- Testing the conceptual framework by 12 in-depth regional case studies (WP4)
- Comparative regional analysis and evaluation of the conceptual framework on the basis of the twelve regional case study analysis' (WP5)
- Policy recommendations for rural policy-making at different administrative levels (WP6)

In addition to the research activities, two other WPs were effectuated in order to ensure an effective project coordination and administration (WP1) and coordinate dissemination and consultation activities with stakeholders and experts (WP7).

Development of the conceptual model (WP2)

The first step in the further development of the initial conceptual framework consisted of seven literature reviews regarding seven domains (or conceptual areas) and their interrelations: endogeneous development, novelty production, governance of markets, sustainable development, institutional frameworks, social capital and 'the rural web'. Central is the 'web' of interrelations, interactions, exchanges and positive mutual externalities within rural societies. In the provisional conceptual model, it is assumed that these 'webs' interrelate with the six dimensions. The literature reviews for each domain are mainly focused on the interrelation with other domains and with 'the web'. Loading the conceptual model by means of a quick scan of 62 cases (WP3)

The quick scan intends to enable an improved understanding of the large variety of rural 'webs' emerging from empirical cases in the light of the domains and the conceptual model (WP2).

In total, reviews of 62 case studies from 16 countries were carried out. The focus of the case studies was mainly on:
- interactions between the domains;
- the influence of policy arrangements on the interrelation between domains;
- to what extent domains (as well as the interactions between domains) strengthen the 'web' of interrelations and positive mutual externalities within rural societies;
- how different domains influence the competitiveness of rural economies and the quality of life in rural areas.

Testing the conceptual framework; in-depth regional studies (WP4)

The conceptual framework was tested by means of 12 in-depth regional studies (2 per country). The regions studied together reflected different types of rural development approaches and different kinds of rural areas. The conceptual model was used to examine if and how different domains are interlinked, which interlinkages are missing, if and how the different domains affect the structure of rural societies and economies, and which (sets of integrated) activities are undertaken or lacking to improve the competitiveness of rural economies and the quality of life of rural areas. This resulted in the identification of strengths and weaknesses of different rural development practices, and of approaches to enhance the integrated rural development potential of a specific region.

Comparative regional analysis and evaluation of the conceptual framework (WP5)

On the basis of the results of the in-depth regional studies, a comparative analysis was carried out.

The intention of the comparison was to identify:
a) the factors that affect the structure and development dynamics of rural societies and economies. Reference is made to the different domains that the web concept is based upon;
b) the approaches that strengthen or weaken the competitiveness of rural economies and the quality of life; and
c) the relevance and added value of the conceptual framework.

Main consultation and dissemination activities of the project

- Two 'science and policy' seminars (European expert fora)
- Regional workshops
- Six national workshops
- The first ETUDE book: 'Unfolding webs, the dynamics of regional rural development'
- The ETUDE website
- Leaflet: to disseminate the aims and approach of the project to a wider audience
- A publication 'eStrategies projects Europe'
- Many lectures for authorities and stakeholders at different administrative levels
- Lectures for scientific audiences, such as PhD courses.

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